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Saturday, 22 November, 1997, 23:43 GMT
Iraq's Tariq Aziz concludes visit to Syria.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz left Damascus this evening at the conclusion of a two-day visit to Syria, Syrian television reported.

He was seen off at Damascus International Airport by Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar'a and senior Foreign Ministry officials.

Aziz made a statement to reporters at the airport, in which he said: "This morning I held talks with Vice-President Abd al-Halim Khaddam and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar'a.

"Our talks were constructive and substantial, touching on the Arab situation in general and on our future aspirations. I have explained to the brothers in Syria our position on the recent developments and what Iraq is suffering because of the injustice done by the [UN] Special Commission and certain parties at the Security Council [UNSC]. We also talked about bilateral relations between the two sisterly states. Once again, let me say that our talks were constructive and fruitful."

Answering the question: Do you expect an improvement in Syrian-Iraqi relations soon? Aziz said: "My presence in Damascus is evidence of this improvement."

Tariq Aziz was asked about restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries. He said: "I have no comment about this at the moment."

Answering a question about the atmosphere that prevailed during the talks, Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar'a said: "The talks were held in a constructive and beneficial manner, because we were acquainted with the Iraqi crisis with the UNSC in general terms, and naturally, we were very interested in some of the details related to the UN Special Commission [Unscom]. We were also keen on following up on the implementation of the UNSC resolutions and the issue of Kuwaiti prisoners, those missing in action, and other matters."

Tariq Aziz explained his position on these details. "We underlined that Syria, under the leadership of President Hafiz al-Asad, is very eager to see the alleviation of the suffering of the fraternal Iraqi people, expediting the work of the Unscom, and the implementation of resolutions so that there would be no excuse to stand in the way of easing the suffering of the Iraqi people."

Asked about the bilateral relations, and whether there would be a follow up any time soon on the contacts held today, Shar'a said: "We have discussed the Arab situation in general and we reviewed the dangers threatening the region and all that affects its security and stability; therefore, we hope and wish that this suffering and this embargo imposed on the Iraqi people will come to an end as soon as possible through a full implementation of the UNSC resolutions. We have seen positive response in this regard. Tariq Aziz has said that his country and the Iraqi leadership are keen to contribute in the near future to improving the Arab situation. He hoped that we would all cooperate in reviving Arab solidarity in its best forms."

When asked the question: Do you consider Tariq Aziz's visit an indication that some of the ice in Syrian-Iraqi relations has broken?

Shar'a replied: "No doubt, Tariq Aziz's visit is the first in a long time. We heard the Iraqi side make some propositions and express a genuine desire to overcome what had happened recently to ease the Iraqi people's suffering. There is the possibility that the Arab situation will improve - even if this happens slowly. All these things put together will inevitably create occasions in the future for a serious discussion of all that concerns the two countries as well as the Arab nation."

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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